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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 109 (June 3, 2010)
*** NEWS IN BRIEF

UN Delegation for Relief Funds Evaluation Visits North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A U.N. delegation visited North Korea to assess how its relief funds have been used in the country, amid increasing international concerns over imposing tougher economic sanctions on the country for its military provocation against South Korea, according to a U.N. official.

   The U.N.'s four-member team arrived in Pyongyang on May 21 for their eight-day visit to North Korea, Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said on May 27 in response to queries from the AFP.

   But up until now, North Korea's news media has not reported on the delegation's visit to the country, despite the confirmation from the U.N. official.

   "This mission is the first CERF (central emergency response fund) mission in the DPRK (North Korea)," said the spokeswoman.

   The delegation, which was scheduled to stay in the North until May 28, was also there to meet heads of U.N. agencies, she said, including officials from the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).

   During their week-long visit, the U.N. experts were expected to evaluate whether there is a "possibility of increasing the support of the U.N. in the DPRK in order to help those in need."

   North Korea, which has suffered from more than two decades of natural disasters, was allocated eight million dollars in 2010 in the U.N.'s emergency relief funds.

   South Korea with Washington's support plans to refer the sinking of its warship Cheonan, which North Korea is held accountable for, to the U.N. Security Council for additional sanctions on Pyongyang. North Korea is already under U.N. penalties for its missile and nuclear tests.

  
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More Than 150 Beer Houses in Business in Pyongyang

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- There are more than 150 beer houses in North Korea's capital Pyongyang, which provide customers with a variety of draft and bottled beer, the official state media reported on May 27.

   "More than 150 beer parlors in different parts of Pyongyang are alive with customers every day," said the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   On the back of increasing demand for alcohol in the North, Taedong River Beer Factory has recently modernized its production and management system, which are all computer-controlled, and has also set up new facilities.

   The KCNA said the production capacity of the factory, which was established in 2002, has doubled through the modernizing process since its establishment.

   The country's No. 1 beer maker, Taedong River Beer, is a globally certified brand, acquiring the international standard quality certificate ISO 9001 in 2008, the state media added. The certificate acknowledges it has reached the global standard in 10 categories such as hygienic security, alcohol quality and purity.

   The beer brand has also succeeded in developing rice beer and black beer, the KCNA reported, enabling it to satisfy various customers' needs and preferences.

   The beer, which allegedly has a mild and pure taste due to its high degree of fermentation, is popular among North Koreans, it said.

  
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N. Korea Says It Is Retracting All Military Safeguards with S. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on May 27 it is withdrawing all its military safeguards with South Korea, including a pact aimed at preventing clashes off their west coast, amid boiling tension between the sides after Seoul blamed Pyongyang for the sinking of its warship.

   The announcement by the North's general staff heightens the risk of a conflict on the divided peninsula, where the socialist state has warned of an all-out war against any punishment for the sinking.

   Pyongyang denies involvement in the tragedy that claimed 46 lives near the western sea border. Seoul, which has implemented a raft of punitive measures since May 20, says that a North Korean submarine torpedoed the Cheonan on March 26.

   On May 27, South Korea launched an anti-submarine drill off its west coast in its first show of force since the sinking and is moving to resume anti-Pyongyang propaganda along the border.

   "The (North Korean military) will retract all measures for providing military guarantees for the North-South cooperation and exchange," the North said in a statement.

   It also warned of "a prompt physical strike at the intrusion into the extension of the Military Demarcation Line under our side's control in the West Sea of Korea."

   The general chiefs of staff added its army will "mercilessly respond" if Seoul resumes its anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts along the heavily armed border after a six-year hiatus.

   In apparent retaliation for the ban the South imposed on North Korean commercial ships and airplanes from its territory, the North said it will carry out a similar measure against the South.

   The staff also said it is "immediately" cutting off its hot lines that have been used for emergency situations while shutting down military liaison offices on both sides of the peninsula.

   North Korea already announced earlier this week it would sever all ties and suspend dialogue with South Korea as long as President Lee Myung-bak is in office in Seoul.

  
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N. Korea Denounces U.S. for Backing S. Korean Handling of Sunken Ship

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea criticized the U.S. on May 28 for backing South Korea's move to punish Pyongyang through the U.N. Security Council for what Seoul says was the socialist neighbor's deadly torpedo attack on one of its warships, the Cheonan, in March.

   A spokesperson at the North's foreign ministry said in a statement that the U.S. is recklessly siding with Seoul in an attempt to put international pressure on its regime by taking the Cheonan's sinking to the Council.

   South Korea said last week that the North was found to be responsible for the sinking that killed 46 sailors and announced a plan to request that the Council discuss ways to penalize Pyongyang. During her brief visit here earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged support for Seoul's drive.

   The unnamed spokesperson said a referral of the issue to the Council itself is tantamount to an infringement on the North's sovereignty.

   "The U.S. should be held responsible for consequences if we take ultra strong countermeasures that we have already declared," the spokesperson said, according to the North's official news agency, the Korean Central News Agency.

   Pyongyang has threatened it could stage a war if the South and its allies press ahead with sanctions on it in connection with the Cheonan case.

  
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North Korea Bolsters Anti-Smoking Campaign with Strict Policies

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has recently bolstered its anti-smoking campaign while joining the international community's efforts to encourage non-smoking, according to the North's news media on May 31.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported the country's strict anti-tobacco policies along with a set of festivities to commemorate the day, on the occasion of World No-Tobacco Day, which fell on May 31.

   As part of the no-tobacco campaign this year, a Tobacco Substitutes Exhibition was held in Pyongyang, the KCNA said, adding that "diversified activities have been conducted in the country such as a symposium on measures to protect people from passive smoking."

   The exhibition, largely to inform visitors of the harmfulness of smoking and to introduce alternatives to tobacco, has allegedly helped many people quit smoking in the past, the KCNA quoted the event's organizer as saying.

   "We will produce many goods helping people quit smoking and expand the scientific and technical exchange with many countries encouraging nonsmoking," Ri Yon-ok, chief of the exhibition, told the KCNA.

   In a bid to encourage the no-tobacco campaign, North Korea enacted a tobacco control law a few years ago and has organized the (North) Korean Tobacco Association, which oversees various policies concerning tobacco production, import, export and sale, under the law.

   The law also bans people from smoking in all public places, including theaters, schools and even on the street.

   Health organizations and media are actively participating in the national anti-smoking campaign, enlightening people on environmental consequences and the economic importance of quitting smoking, the KCNA said.

   Under such a stringent policy against tobacco, North Korea pledged last year to decrease the country's smoking rate to 30 percent by 2010.

  
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Kim Jong-il Resurfaces After Disappearing Amid Tension

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has apparently made his first public appearance since South Korea blamed the socialist country for the March sinking of a warship near their western sea border.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on June 2 that Kim, 68, watched a concert by a military propaganda band, his first public appearance in 12 days.

   But the report did not say when or where the performance took place, but Pyongyang's media usually report on Kim's activities a day late.

   The last time Kim's outing was reported was on May 21, a day after Seoul condemned Pyongyang for the sinking of its 1,200-ton corvette Cheonan and the deaths of 46 of its crew members. North Korea denies its role in the sinking.

   Kim's disappearance from the public eye suggested the urgency of the sinking issue that has taken up the North Korean leadership. The North is waging both domestic and foreign campaigns to brand the results of a multinational probe into the sinking as fabricated.

   "Kim Jong-il congratulated the performers on their successful presentation," the KCNA said, quoting Kim as calling his troops "indomitable fighters who cherish the spirit of devotedly defending the leader and the spirit of becoming human bombs."

  (END)